Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.56
David Goodblatt, Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 276. ISBN 978-0-521-86202-8. $75.00.

Reviewed by Carol Bakhos, University of California, Los Angeles (

Word count: 1887 words

Table of Contents

In Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism, Goodblatt masterfully argues that nationalism can be found in the ancient world, and that the collective identity asserted by the Jews in antiquity fits contemporary definitions of nationalism. The notion that nationalism existed prior to the modern period, however, runs contrary to the widespread view that it is a phenomenon only of the past 200 years. Scholars in the field by and large maintain that it probably originated as a result of efforts made by rulers and statesmen to mobilize their subjects and utilize their loyalty, and thus to strengthen their states in order to keep pace with the exceedingly competitive European environment.


In sum, Goodblatt's monograph, formidable in its meticulous treatment of cultural artifacts and nuanced arguments, is a weighty contribution not only to the field of ancient Judaism, but also to the study of nationalism. For many who adhere to the notion that nationalism is a distinctly modern ethos, this work furnishes countervailing evidence that commands serious attention. For those of us who are first and foremost engaged in the study of ancient Jewish history, Goodblatt provides a conceptualization of that history, which will serve us well in our exploration of the Jewish past and perhaps, too, in our understanding of the present.
(Both BMCRs via the Agade list.)